Thursday, October 8, 2015

Hamlet Read-Along: Act I, Scene 4

This scene opens with one of my favorite lines to quote:  "The air bites shrewdly; it is very cold" (1).  I have a great tendency to say that during the winter, and also Horatio's rejoinder, "It is a nipping and an eager air" (2).  I don't get to say it very often now that we've moved to Virginia, but I used to say it a lot when we lived in colder climes.

Anyway!  This is an exciting scene, and it ends with a cliffhanger.  Now, Shakespeare didn't actually chop up his plays into scenes and acts when he wrote them -- the people who collected and printed them did that, and they do make sense in that each scene is in a different place or whatever, so you'd probably need a break there to change scenery, etc.  But that means this scene ends in a terrible place.  Feel free to just zip right on into Scene 5.  If I can, I will post the next scene's commentary later today or tomorrow.  I'll do my best.

So Hamlet and Horatio and Marcellus are out on the battlements, same spot as the previous night, waiting for the Ghost to show up.  It's very noisy inside the castle because Claudius is observing a rowdy custom where every time he gives drinks a toast, people beat drums and blow horns to celebrate.  Hamlet finds this practice disgusting, but it gives him something to chat about to cover his nervousness about the whole Ghost thing.  Notice we get two really common phrases from this scene:  "to the manner born" (15) and "more honored in the breach than the observance" (16).  Except nowadays both of them get used a little differently.  A lot of people write/say "to the manor born" as in someone is born in a wealthy family, not that they're native to a place where something is practiced.  And "honored in the breach" anymore means something good that isn't getting done, whereas Hamlet is saying it's a bad thing that it would be better not to do.

Sorry.  I'm wordy today.  Hamlet must be rubbing off on me.  So the Ghost shows up, and Hamlet freaks out, but in kind of an excited way.  He's not at all sure what this apparition is -- "spirit of health or goblin damned" (40), but he wants to talk to it anyway because it looks like his dad.  He calls it everything he can think of:  "Hamlet, King, father, royal Dane" (44-45), but it doesn't answer to any of those, so he's still not sure what or who it is.  But he talks to it a bunch anyway, because that's what Hamlet does.  It beckons for him to follow it somewhere else, which Hamlet tries to do, but Horatio and Marcellus hold him back.  (Random Hamlette thing:  I have a huge penchant for scenes where someone desperately wants to go somewhere and gets physically restrained from doing it.  So I love this.)

Horatio repeatedly tells him this is a bad idea:  "No, by no means" (62), "Do not, my lord" (64), and "Be ruled.  You shall not go" (81).  But Hamlet completely rejects Horatio's wise counsel, shakes them both off, and pulls his sword, saying, "By heaven, I'll make a ghost of him that lets me" (85).  'Lets' there meaning 'prevents,' because English is an ever-evolving language and gets tricksy that way.  Off goes the Ghost, with Hamlet in pursuit and... that's the end of the scene because Cliff Hangers Are Fun and In No Way Annoying!

BTW, my copy says "toys of desperation" (75) means "thoughts of suicide," which I don't remember reading before, so that's interesting in light of how Hamlet's going to be pondering being and not being in a couple of acts.

(More) Favorite Lines:

"Angels and ministers of grace defend us!" (39).


"He waxes desperate with imagination" (87).


"Something is rotten in the state of Denmark" (90).


Possible Discussion Questions:


Hamlet says "My fate cries out" (81) when he struggles away from Horatio and Marcellus' protecting hands.  What do you think Hamlet believes the Ghost is going to say or do, at this point?  How could it involve his own fate?


Random fun idea:  What if Hamlet had heeded Horatio and not spoken to the Ghost?  What might have happened differently?

If you've never read this before, what do you think of it so far?  Is it what you expected?

18 comments:

  1. Notice Hamlet's uncertainty about ghost's provenance and his decision to put on the antic disposition. Thus, reality and truth are elusive throughout the play. Ah, this is the universal challenge.

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    1. Yes, both Hamlet and the viewers chase truth throughout the play, don't they? How much of Hamlet's madness is assumed? Can we trust the Ghost? It's all endlessly fascinating.

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    2. All "madness" is feigned, except for Ophelia's. Hamlet must act mad in order to stay one step ahead of Claudius. Trust me. This is the only reading that makes sense.

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    3. RT, I'm not so sure. I think he does go slightly mad right after having seen the ghost, or at least teeter on the brink. Later, yes, I think it's entirely faked, but right there it feels too spontaneous and manic.

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  2. I wasn't really sure what to expect before I read the play, but I am really liking it so far. It's a little bit harder to read than the other two Shakespeare plays I've read. I feel like I am looking at the bottom of the page more often to find out what certain words or phrases mean, so I really like reading your comments about phrases and the scenes in general because it adds to what I just read.

    I think Hamlet means that whatever the Ghost says to him, it's going to decide his fate. I don't think that he knows what the Ghost is going to say, but he definitely knows that it is going to be important. I truthfully have no idea what happens to Hamlet in the play, so I do not know how the Ghost's message and Hamlet's fate will intertwine,

    I read the next scene, and I have a lot to say about Hamlet. I guess when you talk about a character who likes to be wordy, you must use a lot of words. :-)

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    1. Ekaterina, which others have you read before?

      I'm actually trying to read all the notes on words this time through, just because the last couple times I read this, I ignored those because I knew the play and wanted to enjoy the flow. So I'm picking up a few new nuances on some words that I understood, but didn't realize/remember had multiple meanings.

      I have a ton of stuff to say about the next scene too -- hope to have that post finished later today!

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    2. Actually, I have read three. I tend to think of about Romeo and Juliet and Macbeth whenever I think of the Shakespeare plays I've read. I got read them for school, and I'm so glad I did because that's how I found out how much I loved his writing. I've also read Much Ado About Nothing in my free time, but I find that I like the tragedies more. I'm not sure why. Maybe it's the drama. :-)

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    3. Ekaterina, I like the tragedies better myself. The comedies are hit or miss for me -- I love Much Ado and really like The Taming of the Shrew, but many of the others I don't find all that interesting.

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  3. Suspense! :) I read scenes four and five back to back, 'cause I was catching up anyway, and I'm glad I did. Anyway, as you know, this is the first time I'm reading this (I'm enjoying it so much that I recommended Mom read it as well, but she wasn't too keen on the idea) and I haven't really thought much about how I expect things to turn out because I literally have no idea of how the story goes. :P

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    1. Eva, I'm finding it quite hilarious that there are things I read that make you go, "Oh, I wish my mom would read this!" and other things that make your mom go, "Oh, I wish Eva would read this!" You two crack me up.

      Four and five back-to-back is definitely the way to go.

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    2. :D The only problem is, we usually don't want to read what the other one recommends (though I did break down and read The Blue Castle yesterday - ended up reading the whole thing in one sitting. LOVED IT.). Or I'll ask her to preview a book that I reeeeally want to read and then she'll end up saying that she enjoyed it but it's too mature for me right now. :P

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    3. Well, yes, that IS a problem. I'm so excited you read The Blue Castle, though! Isn't it splendid?!?!?!

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  4. I like reading this a lot. Even though I thought I knew the plot, it seems I only know the conclusion, so every scene is filled with new information for me.

    My favourite part of this scene was when Horatio tried to keep Hamlet from going with the ghost. This was the first time I really got a feel of his character and how good a friend he is.

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    1. Rose, I'm so glad you're enjoying the read-along! I'm having a great time too -- digging into the text delights me.

      Horatio is awesome. He's the ultimate best friend, really.

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  5. Ack! I've fallen behind! Catch-up time... :P I like this scene. I like this play! This scene has a lot of good and memorable lines. And is nice and suspenseful. ;) I have to admit, your "random Hamlette thing" is also a Sarah thing. It's such a great foil for passionate heroes like Hamlet!

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    1. Sarah, I'm so glad you like it :-) And ooh, you share that "sweet spot" with me? I actually used it in my last novel, heh heh.

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  6. I'm falling behind on this read-along big time! You've almost got up to Act 3 and I haven't even finished Act 1 yet!

    So... I love this scene :) I've always found it highly suspenseful and dramatic but this time around I was also struck by Hamlet's huge rant about Claudius's drunken, partying ways and how the reputation for drunkenness is giving Denmark a bad reputation overseas. I don't know very much about Danish culture and history so that was something fairly interesting to me. And I'm guessing that Hamlet may have been on the receiving end of a few jokes about Denmark while he was at Wittenberg?

    Like Ekaterina, I think Hamlet would have known that the ghost had something important to tell him. And if Hamlet hadn't heeded Horatio's warning then it would have been a very short play :D No but seriously, I think Hamlet would have just gone back on a different night and not told anyone about it.

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    1. Hannah, you have time this weekend to catch up because I'm not sure right now when I'll have time to post the next scene -- it's gonna be kind of a rough weekend. We'll see -- I might squeeze in time tomorrow.

      Yes, Hamlet is really bugged by all the drinking going on. I like your idea that he's gotten ribbed about this at school. At school in Germany, where they are no strangers to some joyous drinking.

      If he hadn't gone to speak to the Ghost now, no doubt the Ghost would have found his way to Hamlet later on.

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